Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

It’s Saturday morning on the picturesque Redcliffe Peninsula north of Brisbane, and Melissa Griffith’s 15-year-old KitchenAid is making a “click sound”.

The workhorse in Mrs Griffith’s kitchen, the appliance is now being wrinkled by a volunteer at Redcliffe Repair Cafe, a community program that aims to reduce the number of items thrown at the landfill each year.

“Something is happening with the gears, but to get it repaired in Australia I had to send it down to Melbourne or send it to England,” she said.

The verdict has fallen: her KitchenAid must be left with a volunteer for a few days for further investigations.

‘Things can be repaired’

Ms Griffith is one of dozens of locals who have made appointments for Redcliffe Repair Cafe’s meeting in November, bringing broken items up for voluntary set-up in the hope that they can be repaired.

A toy boat, pushbikes, a sewing machine, a wooden train set, a high-pressure cleaner, and a beautiful lead lamp are just some of the things scattered around the tables through the center of the Redcliffe neighborhood.

Electricians, carpenters, mechanics – skilled workers with many years of experience – have given their time to gluing, soldering, scraping, screwing and oiling damaged objects that society has brought in.

Redcliffe Repair Cafe founder Les Barkla said the volunteer initiative was a global push to reduce the number of items thrown away each year.

A man and a woman are standing with a broken bicycle.
Repair Cafe Redcliffe founds Les Barkla with Griffith University law professor Leanne Wiseman at the Repair Cafe meeting in November.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Lucy Stone)

“This is a real community project where we are trying to help community members get things fixed because we have to keep things away from the landfill,” Mr Barkla said.

Sir. Barkla said the Redcliffe team had managed to fix 77 of 127 items in eight meetings this year, and there would have been more unless many mass-produced items brought in were of such poor quality that they could not be repaired.

A man leans in over a sewing machine that has the case open
Old sewing machines, lamps and cooking equipment are all stuck at the Repair Cafe.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Lucy Stone)

Redcliffe Repair Cafe is one of several in southeastern Queensland with cafes operating in Sandgate and Woolloongabba.

Founded in Amsterdam in 2007, the Repair Cafe movement has grown to more than 2,200 cafés internationally and is part of the Right to Repair movement, which calls for better consumer access to repairs.

‘Unnecessary barriers’

Under Australian Consumer Guarantees, customers have rights when purchasing new goods, such as the right to a refund or repair.

But it can be hampered by warranty restrictions, copyright law and the sheer cheapness of mass-produced electrical items.

A set of tools opens
Simple repairs can often be performed on items, preventing them from being thrown out prematurely.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Lucy Stone)

This week, the Federal Productivity Commission released a report on the right to repair laws recommending amendments to Australia’s consumer and copyright laws.

The report found that there were “significant and unnecessary barriers” to repairing some products, and that repairs of consumer products became increasingly difficult or even impossible, resulting in “expensive and wasteful results” for society.

“Good product design, recycling of materials that would otherwise end up in the landfill, and greater awareness of consumers’ rights and duties can all help reduce environmental damage caused by unnecessary disposal of products that are no longer wanted.” said the report.

The federal government is now considering the report.

A man working on several wooden toys.
Redcliffe Repair Cafe volunteer David Barkla is working on a set of wooden toys from Ireland.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Lucy Stone)

Cheaper to throw away than repair

Griffith University professor Leanne Wiseman has been researching the right to repair movements for several years.

Professor Wiseman spoke to ABC Radio Brisbane while visiting Redcliffe Repair Cafe in November, saying that if manufacturers were required to make it easy to repair, consumers would be more likely to keep goods for longer.

Often, she said, it was cheaper for manufacturers to replace the entire item instead of a single part.

“For example, I had a microwave recently that did not work. Everything about it was fine, but there was a problem with the sensor pad,” she said.

“It was a simple exercise to replace some wires, but the manufacturer was not interested because it was out of their warranty period … I was really reluctant to put it in the landfill so I was able to get it repaired.

A man is working on a broken high pressure cleaner.
Volunteer repairman Wayne Mathie (right) is working on a broken high-pressure cleaner at Redcliffe Repair Cafe in November.(ABC Radio Brisbane: Lucy Stone)

Volunteer repairman Wayne Mathie, who spent Saturday morning working on a high-pressure cleaner and several appliances, told many people that a simple solution was beyond their knowledge and capacity, meaning many items were thrown out unnecessarily.

“It’s very satisfying to be able to repair that item and give it another year or three of life,” he said.


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